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Frontline employee expectations on working with physical robots in retailing

Kim Willems (Department of Business–Marketing and Consumer Behavior, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussel, Belgium) (Department of Marketing and Strategy, Hasselt University, Diepenbeek, Belgium)
Nanouk Verhulst (IMEC-SMIT, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussel, Belgium) (Department of Business–Marketing and Consumer Behavior, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussel, Belgium)
Laurens De Gauquier (Department of Business–Marketing and Consumer Behavior, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussel, Belgium)
Malaika Brengman (Department of Business–Marketing and Consumer Behavior, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussel, Belgium)

Journal of Service Management

ISSN: 1757-5818

Article publication date: 13 September 2022

Issue publication date: 13 April 2023

1483

Abstract

Purpose

Service robots have increasingly been utilized in retail settings, yet empirical research on how frontline employees (FLEs) might deal with this new reality remains scarce. This mixed-methods study aims to examine how FLEs expect physical service robots to impact job characteristics and affect their job engagement and well-being.

Design/methodology/approach

First, explorative interviews (Study 1; N = 32) were conducted to investigate how FLEs currently experience job characteristics and how they believe robots might impact these job characteristics and job outcomes. Next, a survey (Study 2; N = 165) examined the relationship between job characteristics that retail FLEs expect to be impacted by robots and their own well-being and job engagement.

Findings

While the overall expectations for working with robots are mixed, retail FLEs expect that working with robots can alleviate certain job demands, but robots cannot help to replenish their job resources. On the contrary, most retail FLEs expect the pains and gains associated with robots in the workspace to cancel each other out, leaving their job engagement and well-being unaffected. However, of the FLEs that do anticipate that robots might have some impact on their well-being and job engagement, the majority expect negative effects.

Originality/value

This study is unique in addressing the trade-off between expected benefits and costs inherent to job demands-resources (JD-R) theory while incorporating a transformative service research (TSR) lens. By integrating different streams of research to study retail FLEs' expectations about working with robots and focusing on robots' impact on job engagement and well-being, this study offers new insights for theory and practice.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the research assistants Harold Clément, Veerle Debruyne, Lien Ravesloot, Maxime Van Erps, Valentijn Van Volsom for their help in collecting the data.

Citation

Willems, K., Verhulst, N., De Gauquier, L. and Brengman, M. (2023), "Frontline employee expectations on working with physical robots in retailing", Journal of Service Management, Vol. 34 No. 3, pp. 467-492. https://doi.org/10.1108/JOSM-09-2020-0340

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2022, Emerald Publishing Limited

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